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Open Access Publications from the University of California



This paper examines the relationships between the residential choices of individuals and aggregate patterns of neighborhood change. We investigate the conditions under which individuals’ preferences for the race-ethnic composition of their neighborhoods produce high levels of segregation. Using computational models, we find that high levels of segregation occur only when individuals’ preferences follow a threshold function. If individuals make finer-grained distinctions among neighborhoods that vary in racial composition, preferences alone do not lead to segregation. Vignette data from the Detroit Area Study and the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality indicate that individuals respond in a continuous way to variations in the racial makeup of neighborhoods rather than to a threshold. Our findings suggest that race preferences alone are insufficient to account for the high levels of segregation observed in American cities.

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